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Japanese architecture


Nowadays, Japanese contemporary architecture presents a quality and a diversity which offer a considerable interest. Although this architecture is from a very advanced society in the capitalist economy and in globalization, it keeps its own specificities that makes it stand out from other contemporary creations of  Western architecture.

Such specificities can only be the manifestation of an aesthetic and an intellectual, spiritual and artistic research coming from the Japanese context and tradition.As it is often the case, Japanese architecture takes a leaf out of former model.

First of all, it is to know that Japanese contemporary architecture, by combining tradition and modernity, is very dynamic. All materials are used with technique skills; not only wood and bamboo but also concrete, steel and glass. It respects fundamental elements such as air, light and water. Indeed, Japanese architecture is based on space, shadow and light concepts. In Japanese's eyes, shadow is creating space, vision totally opposed to Western space notion. Furthermore, Japanese traditional architecture assimilates buildings to nature, to environment and to its changes. Thus, a large and important part is given to garden architecture.

In the early 20th century, Japanese architects, which number was increasing, gained consciousness of their own abilities, they have acquired an architecture mastery as well as Westerns techniques. In addition, they started to study with lots of interests the real artistic values of  Wester architecture while they were seriously reconsidering their national traditional architecture.

As often in Japanese culture and society, modern technologies arrival gave fresh impetus to the archipelago architecture. New structures made of concrete and steel were established highly contrasting with traditional architectural models. Japan played a dynamic role in the conception of modern skyscrapers, thanks to its knowledge of the cantilever principle which enable to support heavy loads such as temples' heavy roofs.

Besides, the necessity to rebuild Japan after  World War II deeply stimulated Japanese architecture, thus making Japanese contemporary architecture one of the most impressive concerning technology and formal design. The sobriety of modern architecture was perfectly answering  to Japan's exhaustion due to the war, cube-shaped buildings without any soul are built.


At the arrival of the second post-war generation appeared the architects Kenzo Tange, Seike and Kikutake who resorted to an original development of modern architecture. With those architects, function stopped to be a causal element to become just a simple one. This corresponds to the society aspiration on more humanism and opulence. Urban redevelopment, made necessary because of the devastation left by the war, put at stake some majors architects such as Kenzo Tange who used the cantilever principle in a pillars and beams system inherited by former imperial palaces.

Japanese architects were acknowledged as being not only skillful practitioners of modernism but also as enhancers of postmodernism with innovations in space perception, a sensibility to exterior environment, a non common use of industrial materials as well as a developed awareness of ecologic and topographical problems.

Kenzo Tange's style was based on uncluttered buildings, he was the advocate of constructions made of concrete. That concrete, was the inescapable modern material of Japan, where earthquakes' frequency makes the use of steel and glass difficult. He won the contest for the Hiroshima Peace Menmorial Park and the atomic bomb museum in 1949 which he built in the center of the city of Hiroshima.

As far as Fumihiko Maki is concerned, he gave new ideas of urbanism based on the "cocooning" principle of an inside space, a Japanese spatial concept adapted to urban needs. He recommended also the use of open space, thus corresponding to Japanese aesthetic unherited from Buddhist ideas.

Besides, several experimental avant-garde groups reconsidered, during the 80s, modernism geometric forms by introducing metaphysical concepts producing surprising effects.By contrast with those innovations and their rigid modernism, poetic and experimental minimalism of Tadao Ando embodied postmodernism: a more balanced and humanist approach of architecture.


The story of Japanese contemporary architecture is the one of a gradual disengagement of international style, with its  white, rectangular and abstract shapes, its stilts, its flat roofs and its reconversion into ways of re-singularization.

This process required a mastery of modern architecture's language and techniques, and then use all its assets to achieve a reinstatement and a reinterpretation of the Japanese tradition.

The diversity and the impact that Japanese architecture has today at the international level is nothing but the result of multiple approaches of several architects who, starting from a mastery of modernist concepts, have tapped into their spiritual traditions and their cultural specificity, and they have turned them into an inexhaustible source of creation.

1. Building by Fumihiko Maki
- House N by Sou Fujimoto Architects
2. Sports Complex for the Olympic games in Tokyo by Kenzo Tange
- TOD’s Omotesando in Tokyo by Toyo Ito
- Sanctuary in Itsukushima
3. Kanagawa Institute of Technology by Junya Ishigami & Associates
4. Museum in the United State by Tadao Ando.
5. Hiroshima Peace Menmorial Park
6. Tokyo Marine and Fire Insurance Building in Tokyo by Kunio Maekawa

- Cluzel Jean-Sebastien L'architecture éternelle du Japon
- Aplus, A+U 452 recents projects
- Nicolas Fiévé, L'architecture et la ville du Japon ancien.

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